Closed primaries Disenfranchise independent voters 


Originally run in the Santa Fe New Mexican

Over 300,000 unaffiliated New Mexican voters are disenfranchised from voting in our state’s strictly partisan closed primaries, which are usually the decisive elections in most districts across all levels of government. Because of this, primary elections persistently have low voter turnout, which results in a small percentage of people deciding who gets to represent entire communities.

New Mexico has closed primaries, meaning only those registered with a major political party (Democrat, Republican or Libertarian) are allowed to vote.

To vote in the primary, voters who are unaffiliated (commonly known as independent or decline to state) or affiliated with a minor party must engage in the time-consuming process of updating their registration to change their party affiliation and then must update their registration again to remain independent. If they do not change their registration to a major party, they are not allowed to have a voice in these crucial elections.

The added barrier of changing one’s voter registration — even on the day of an election — is a turn-off for hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters. Data from the Secretary of State’s office shows that only 1% of registered independents utilized same-day registration to vote in the 2022 primaries.

So, how do we solve this problem? A strong option is semi-open primaries. Semi-open primaries would allow independent, decline to state, minor and third-party voters a voice in primary elections without changing their voter registration. Under a semi-open primary system, these voters would merely request the ballot of the major party’s primary they wish to participate in. This option would not apply to voters registered with major parties, and it would empower 25% of our state’s voting block to finally have an equal voice in who represents them. No need to change registration status.

Semi-open and forms of open primaries are widely used by voters throughout the United States. New Mexico is one of only nine states that continue to use closed primaries, with all of our neighboring states having some form of open primary system. Semi-open primaries would be a small change in the current election system with big implications for increased voter access and participation and thus a more representative government at every level.

Supporters of this reform include various county clerks, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, local grassroots organizations, 83% of New Mexicans (according to a public poll conducted by Common Cause New Mexico in 2019) and many leaders within the Legislature.

The partisan barriers of closed primaries in New Mexico disproportionately influence young voters, veterans, and communities of color, particularly Indigenous and Latina/o voters who are more often not affiliated with a major party. With increasing polarization, government distrust and voter apathy, reforms like semi-open primaries will ensure that the voices of all voters matter and that we make a difference when we show up.

Sila Avcil, MA

Executive Director, NM Open Elections & NM Voters First

National Organizer, Open Primaries


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